Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Price Of Advice

Being a baby lawyer is all kinds of fun. You can (well, sometimes) rely on the fact that you are new to this whole "law" thing and people will (sometimes) cut you a little slack. Like, hypothetically, if you were to draft a proposed order to accompany one of your motions but you create a signature line for the partner where the Judge's signature line is supposed to be. And the partner signs it without double checking your work. Then the Judge uses your proposed order, which the partner has already signed for her, and the partner ends up looking like (1) a really big, careless idiot or (2) a pompous ass. Then to rub salt in the wound, opposing counsel emails all counsel on the case to make fun of the partner. Wouldn't that (hypothetically) be horrifying? At least a partner just might overlook this mistake if it was made by a newbie lawyer (please?).

But the best part about being a baby lawyer is the misadventures of asking for advice. Asking coworkers for advice is probably the thing you will do most often in your career. (The only way to avoid this is if you did NOT fall asleep every day in civil procedure, you had a really good civil procedure professor AND you are a super genius who has memorized every civil procedure case you have ever read before conveniently cataloguing it and storing it away in the file cabinet in your brain). My point is, asking for advice is unavoidable.

The first thing you will realize when you are a new lawyer is that there are BAD people to ask for advice and GOOD people to ask for advice. The second thing you will realize is that all advice, though freely given, comes at a price. On any given day, all you can do is decide what kind of price you are in the mood to pay. My firm sometimes seems like a showcase of attorneys who are too smart for their own good. When this is coupled with the fact that most lawyers generally feel underappreciated and unrecognized, a newbie seeking advice will inevitably and obliviously run headlong into the Perfect Storm.

The following people, who I somehow ALWAyS end up asking for advice, are perfect examples.

Me: "Can I ask you a quick question?"
Associate I Can't Believe You Don't Know: (looking smug and pompous) "Okay."
Me: "Under set of facts x,y,z, should I worry about the defense of improper venue?"
Associate: "Wait, really? You don't know this? I'm a little worried. Didn't you take civil procedure?"
Me: "Yes. And I know there probably isn't an issue here but since this is my first case, I just wanted to double check and run it by someone else."
Associate: "That set of facts has NOTHING to do with venue. Seriously?"
Me: "Ok thanks. I just wanted to make sure. Thanks again."
Associate: "Improper venue involves ..... goes on to provide a full civ pro lecture but strategicallly pauses his "lecture" to let me fill in the blanks aloud like I'm a five year old"

Then there's the really smart person who for sure knows the answer but never fails to go all Socratic Method on you.
Me: "Do you have a quick second?"
Associate Socrates: "Sure."
Me: "I'm working on a subpoena to a non-party in this case and I just wanted to make sure I'm doing everything I need to do. So to give notice do I need....
Associate Socrates: "What does the rule say?"
Me: "Well, from what I remember, the rule says....
Associate Socrates: "Here is my rule book. Go ahead. Recite the rule outloud."
Me: "Ok, it says to serve notice on a party according to rule 5(c). Isn't that just sending a copy to the party's attorney?"
Associate Socrates: "What does rule 5(c) say?"
Me: "I'll look it up.... but, also, how much time do you like to give the non-party to comply with the subpoena?"
Associate Socrates: "What does the rule require?"
Me: "Yeah, I'll go look it up. Thanks." (NOT!)

Then there is the overhelpful Associate.
Me: "Wow, I'm working on this tricky case involving insurance coverage in a UIM case. Have you dealt with this issue recently?"
Overhelpful: "Oh actually, 20 years ago, when I was in lawschool, I wrote a law review article on that issue. Here, I'll send you my article. Oh and also, there's this blog that gives some good advice too, I'll send you the link.
Me: "Gee, that's great. Thank you."
Overhelpful: "One time, I had a UIM case that involved a phantom vehicle. Be careful if you have a phantom vehicle, the plaintiff has to provide all kinds of special documents."
Me: "Ok. thanks. I'll remember that if I ever encounter that."
Overhelpful: "The statute requires the plaintif to ...(goes on and on). But before you even get that far, the plaintiff has some initial burdens of proof. So you want to watch out for that. Oh I jsut remembered another article I can send you. It's written by this really amazing professor.
Me: "Well, actualy I think I have all I need now..."
Overhelpful: "In my case, we had to find a special expert to... (goes on and on). Oh and make sure you look at this statute too. You'll also want to....."

Ten minutes later, I'm back in my office when I suddenly get a call from....Mr. Overhelpful. Guess what? He has even more irrelevant advice!

While dealing with overhelpful and underhelpful advice givers may be a pain in the butt, it's usually unavoidable when you're a first year associate (and perhaps for the rest of your legal career). So be cautious before you decide who you are going to approach. It depends.... Do you want to feel like a five year old, do you want to feel like you're back in lawschool being walked through the nuances of the law by a tiresome professor or do you want your ears to melt off the sdie of your face from an overabundance of irrelevant information?

Whatever you do, CHOOSE WISELY.

1 comment:

EH said...

The signature block thing happens more often than you think. Really! :) Shame on opposing counsel for making a big deal of it.

And, um, I am the overly helpful associate crossed with the socratic one. Although I usually say, "Did you look at the rule/uniform trial court rule/supplemental local rule?" Because the answer is almost always in there. And usually my boss had no idea, because the rule changed 12 years ago, and he didn't get the memo. And that's if I was lucky enough to catch the mistake before it made it out the door. (The assistants were under orders to have me proof all the boss's work.) Sigh!